THE TIMELESS JOURNEY, PART THREE
So, after some hesitations, mosquitoes love me too and a lot, it appeared that the “selva”, the rain forest will be the last station of my journey. I decided to go for it and put some tough conditions on the desk of the travel agent. I do not want to see dancing Indians, rescued animal shelters, bare buttocks of any sex or to experience any form of agro-tourism (that last was a mistake, justified only by age, I recommend it). What I wanted was a tour focused on fauna and flora. It sounded smart, they agreed, they will agree to everything and do whatever they want… So, there we go first by car to Nauta, and from there by boat through an amazing array of rivers and rivulets, canals and creeks, channels and tributaries of various colours and names towards our jungle lodge…
There is nothing that I can compare to this ambling on the stream between thick composite green walls which seem wrapped in mist except some fleeting images from a Rimbaud poem vacillating in my head. The sensation of quietude is overwhelming and even the purring of the boat’s engine seem rather to increase it than to alter it.One feels ready to stay there for long and never come back. It is a illusion of which everybody is conscious and nurtures in the same time…Rarely we are crossing another boat. Even less we are meeting a small dingy manned by a native fisherman armed with paddle or pole, slowly cutting through the rich floating plant life, while a heron aloof consider the scene without too much interest…Here and there on the higher grounds, but still floodable land, are small agglomerations of thatched roof cabins on posts. We stop at my injunction at an isolated one to buy beer. It is a large house and the lady has rooms with bathrooms she is proudly renting to young Argentinians who decided to go into “selva” free of any attaches with a travel body. That makes them dependent of everybody! ( Here it is jealousy which speaks!). Also you should have the age and the muscle and the nerve! They do! I am not going to depict my stay at the lodge (as you can see, it was basically basic) , the people I met there, the Indians who prepared the food, the journeys in the jungle, the birds settled in front of the lodge, quite big animals, in weaved nests, hanging from the branches, a variant of the elegant bee-eater, the bullet ants that measure near to two centimetres and can quickly send one into a better world, the fine scorpion and the huge spider I met at night, or the three monkey that I barely distinguished while galloping under the canopy and who shameless vanished in the tick foliage. All these were details. Sincerely? I haven’t seen anything except endless trees whose name I forgot, hanging lianas, termites’ nests, buttressed giants in charge of the canopy, famous rubber dandies, colossal ferns and some orchids while I was wading in deep mud (the lodge graciously furnish the booths) in the search of a certain palm tree to fell. Its delicious and bland (question of taste) core (palmito) we should have for dinner. He was found and butchered; I do not find other term. I left the lodge with the feeling that I was rarely so happy in my whole life…notwithstanding the bite (mosquito, spider?) I got in a delicate area of the left leg. It get infected and it forced me to honour the municipal hospital of Quito, a brand new impressive American style ensemble, where, welcomed by high-heeled smashing hostesses, I received both accurate treatment and personal attention for a 200 US dollars fee to be paid immediately; otherwise you cannot go out. What It happens if one doesn’t? Are they putting him in jail? I am still reflecting upon, without mixing feelings, because you see dear Danarel, ecstasy (ayahuasca) is an expensive commodity and if one wants it, he has to pay for it…Gorgeous visions guaranteed, see underneath, some psychotic episode, no illustration, also possible.
Didn’t I forget something? I did. People are often inclined to overlook failures. Sometimes I am people too, but not for long. See what it happened. I took one day a boat down the river to a little village, Santa Maria de Ojeal, one hour and half away. Eventually, you have seen the photos of this journey in the Ambling on the Amazon gallery. It was a very much improved version of the floating shanty town built on solid grounds. Many homes didn’t have neither windows nor wire nets. The resistance of the locals to mosquitoes should be enormous. But, when absent, it was church day, the owners locked both doors and the heavy window shutters. There was something to steal inside? So the improvement was real! Some people were going barefoot but the stance seemed to be more cultural than caused by need. They seem to be relatively well off thanks to vegetable gardens, fishing and probably jobs in the oil fields. A lodge was near to village, a real one, not a hotel des putas, judging by its astronomical prices. I had a cold beer and an untimely leave, the boat was going back shortly. I felt the desire to repeat and extend this kind of excursions down the river and I began to check the map at my return to Iquitos. The mythical Manaos was 1500 kilometres away. A bridge too far!!! And then I fell on Puerto Francisco d’Orellana some 120 kilometres away. Not that I cared for the place, but it became a must when I realized that it was located on the shore of the Rio Napo mouth. And Rio Napo pre-Columbian culture, circa 1000 to 1400 C.E. left me with the souvenir of a thrilling professional adventure.
I had to do once a token objectdisplay of a Marajo Island pre-Columbian funerary urn. It was some 140 centimetres high, big enough for a well developed individual. So, I decided to show it together with another funerary urn from the Rio Napo aerea ( much smaller). Marajo Island, an estuary island, near to the area where the Amazon empties itself into the ocean, is located some 2500 kilometers from Francisco de Orellana (Rio Napo). The paleoindians, in both sites trusted their dear departed to mother earth where worms and acids took quickly care of the perishable parts. When bones were properly and naturally cleaned the complete skeleton or fragments of it, was placed, conserve like, into a big urn at Marajo, into a more small one at Rio Napo. The clay container (kind of coffin) was decorated profusely with geometric motives but also with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and vegetal ones. For this custom which is a secondary burial, in the rio Napo Area were often used, like in Egyptian and Peruvian traditions effigy containers, anthropomorphic coffins by the Egyptians, Mummy Bundles by the Peruvians, which have had already a human form (GOD forbid, the departed does not come back as a DOG!). The custom itself, the main material carrier, the urn, its decoration at mid-way between figurative and abstract seem to indicate a couple of issues with some importance especially in a blog site dedicated seriously to DEATH.
So what it says or what I believe that it says? First that the natives had an elaborate funerary ritual, second that they believed in death’ afterlife (most of people do) , third that their ritual was ubiquitous in South America and quite absent in Middle America (Mexico, Guatemala) and fourth that they were in cultural contact in spite of the huge distance among the two populations. Do you want a fifth issue of importance? In Marajo the urns have sometime handles representing naked female figure in standing native child birth position what is a great symbol of after death life continuation, of resurrection, of revival. A sixth issue? The secondary burial was, is practised within many religious traditions among which the Christian one. Personally I cannot care less and if is up to me I will pass over on the first burial too. But I wanted to go to Rio Napo, Marajo was too far away, to see if the waters on the shore of which the tradition flourished so to say and check if they are the same waters that have flown then! Unfortunately, the ship I was planning to take and which was anchored in the most nauseating dumping dock mind can imagine was cruising only three times week…For a failure that was one….
The Wanderer from the River
As you probably realized I didn’t twit a word neither of the plush house-hotel for adventurously rich or movie people called Casa Fitzcarraldo nor of Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, the mighty rubber baron. Neither subject, which are interrelated, is easy to handle. However I feel now that it is time to say something about the events which made Iquitos romantically famous at the moment that the old image of the rubber boom was fading away.
So let’s start with the main character the rubber baron Fitzcarrald (1862-1897) villain for some and hero for others. A bigger than life Citizen Kane type individual, Fitzcarrald toiled, in a mad style, to connect the rich in rubber Madre de Dios basin located north east of Cuzco with the Ucayaly basin from which it was easy to ship the sticky material to the Amazon’s mouth and to make some huge gains.. He forced his Indian team, it is said, under the pain of death, to dismantle and transport and reassemble a ship over a steep isthmus. He achieved this more than human endeavour with equal iron will and lack of sensitiveness that left many dead behind. He passed away in romantic circumstances at the age of 35 a little before that some vicious German proto-nazi scientists invented the artificial rubber and brought the economy of this third world active area into deep waters. Happy him!
After that things became much more confuse. Did Walter Saxer, a retired German movie producer who lived some five years in Casa Fitzcarraldo acquired it and provided the name? It was this house already a hotel bearing this name before Saxer arrival? Who had the idea of the tree house surmounting the mighty river and offering to the distinguished guests not only a priceless view but also the occasion to exercise their Tarzan or King Kong skills? Did the appellation of the house furnished Herzog with his winning ticket, or vice versa?
For the moment I was unable to get to the roots in spite my exaggerated (the importance is minimal} tenacity. Panta Rei! Everything flows, especially in the Amazonian area. What we know is that the team of the two most famous Amazonian movies, the fairly hysterical couple Herzog-Kinski (who by the way was not only an excellent actor, but also a true psychopath) and their crew lived here and that Saxer produced the movie despite Kinski’s most murderous fits. It appears also, that Herzog, an outstanding icon of the enlightened left got into a row with a bunch of greedy miserable Indians, the Aguaruna people actually, Peruvians of sorts. Pissed off by the manner in which he was exploiting them, very much similar to the way the infamous rubber baron mistreated their grand-grandfathers, they burned down the film set. Ungrateful savages…unable to appreciate what honor Herzog made to them in letting them to be extras for nothing in a movie of the value and the impact the Fitzcarraldo had and has!